Liberia: MCSS Students Block Presidential Convoy In Massive Protest Over Teachers’ Salaries; Finance Ministry Says Pay on the Way
Monrovia – Students of the Monrovia Consolidated School System (MCSS) took a trip down the Samuel Kanyon Doe era circa 1986 and former President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, March 2011, by staging a massive demonstration before the seat of the Liberian presidency, demanding arrears owed their teachers, they say going back four to five months.
Report by Alline Dunbar, [email protected]
MCSS provides primary and secondary education to the student population of the Monrovia metropolitan area. The MCSS was established by government charter in 1964 under the Act to Amend the Education Law to Create the Monrovia Consolidated School System.
Fighting back teargas and live ammunition, the MCSS students blocked a presidential convoy, demanding to see President George Manneh Weah and have him hear their concerns. The students also threatened to disrupt private schools if the government did not address their concerns.
“This thing is too much, we can’t sit and continue to look at the government do this to us. For the past three months our teachers have not been paid their salary.”– Peter Togba, Student, Mary N. Brownell Public School, 12th Street Sinkor
Student Slams Teargas Attack
Peter Togba, a student of the Mary N. Brownell public school on 12th in Sinkor, while escaping the spraying of teargas from the Liberia National Police (LNP), lamented that he and his peers were tired sitting in classrooms without teachers.
Said Togba: “This thing is too much, we can’t sit and continue to look at the government do this to us. For the past three months our teachers have not been paid their salary,” as he wiped teargas from his uniform.
In 1986, a similar violent protest involving MCSS students brought a convoy carrying former President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf to a halt in the same vicinity where Tuesday’s protest took place.
Sirleaf, who was attending a program at the Monrovia City Hall, was forced to walk to her office from the City Hall as she heard the cries of protesting students, demanding answers from the Sirleaf administration regarding their striking teachers who were demanding salary increment.
Sirleaf would later set up a committee to investigate the protest.
In 1986, during the reign of Samuel Kanyon Doe, MCSS students again took to the streets in violent form, demanding teachers’ salaries and threatening to disrupt private schools.
On Tuesday, the students did not hold back, urging the government to hear their cries.
“They need to pay our teachers. We came to assemble peacefully but they decided to spray us with teargas,” lamented Togbah.
The student said he felt hurt by the actions taken by the LNP and believed he has been deprived of one of his basic rights, which is the right to education.
“Our exams have started but our teachers have refused to give us tests because they have not been paid.”
As the protest gained momentum, the government through the Ministry of Finance and Development Planning announced that arrangements were already in place to pay teachers today (Wednesday).
Salaries on the Way, Government Says
“About 2000 non-MCSS teachers that did not receive their salaries for the month of August will begin receiving their salaries beginning this week. “The delay was attributed to problems they had with the opening of two separate accounts at commercial banks. For this reason, and as a means of fast tracking their payments, a mechanism has been developed between the MFDP and the MOE to resolve this issue beginning this week.”– Ministry of Finance and Development Planning
The government through the Ministry of Finance and Development Planning confirmed that to date it has paid more than 15,000 non-MCSS teachers for the month of August. The Ministry also notes that it is now in the process of speedily processing these teachers’ salaries for the month of September beginning Tuesday, October 15.
The MoF said about 2000 non-MCSS teachers that did not receive their salaries for the month of August will begin receiving their salaries beginning this week. “The delay was attributed to problems they had with the opening of two separate accounts at commercial banks. For this reason, and as a means of fast-tracking their payments, a mechanism has been developed between the MFDP and the MOE to resolve this issue beginning this week,” said a ministry spokesperson.
The official said already, 900 out of the 2000 non-MCSS teachers were paid their Liberian Dollars component of their salaries on Monday and the process will continue throughout this week.
One source told FPA that checks for the month of September for health and security sector including the Liberia National Police, the Ministry of Defense, the National Security Agency, the Drug Enforcement Agency, the Liberia National Fire Service and other security apparatuses have already been sent to their personal accounts at various commercial banks.
Another sticky problem, the source speaking strictly on condition of anonymity Tuesday, is the fact that some of the commercial banks are finding slight difficulties in crediting civil servants two accounts simultaneously. “For example, some MCSS teachers recently received only their 20% Liberian Dollar salaries but are yet to receive their 80% salaries in US$ due to technical problems at few of the commercial banks,” said the source.
The source explained that it is because of some of these technical delays that teachers have not being paid on time, which has resulted into sparks of protests from students, who are in sympathy with their teachers.
The MFDP notes that September salaries for all MCSS teachers, who are paid differently from more than 17,000 public school teachers has already been sent to their accounts at various commercial banks. “All MCSS teachers are expected to get their salaries for the month of September beginning tomorrow with the hope that there are no transactional delays from the commercial banks.”
Unity Party in Solidarity
“We believe that the government needs to take seriously the more important issues of education, healthcare and the livelihood of the people rather than engaging in suppressing free speech and freedom of the press.”– Former Ruling Unity Party
The former ruling Unity Party in a statement signed by its Secretary-General Mo Ali said the party stands in solidarity with the protesting MCSS students, demanding their teachers to be paid their earned salaries. “We call on the government to take every step necessary to ensure that teachers’ salaries are paid on time to avert future break-in teaching activities at public schools. We as a people cannot continue to downplay the importance of education and expect our country to graduate from the poverty ladder. There must be aggressive and deliberate actions to ensure that the education sector is improved.”
The UP also strongly condemned the maltreatment of uniformed students by the President’s Executive Protective Services (EPS) officers and called on the government to investigate such act.
“We believe that the government needs to take seriously the more important issues of education, healthcare and the livelihood of the people rather than engaging in suppressing free speech and freedom of the press.”
For a student like Ebenezer William, at the G.W Gibson High School, it did not have to come to this. “We came on the streets to send out a message to the President so that he can pay our teachers. We want answers from the President; you cannot make fun with educated people. We need adequate education in our quest for education,” he said.
Threatening Private Schools
“We came to the President to see how best he can pay our teachers so that we can return to class but the police treated us wrongly. This protest is for our own good.”Sonita B. Massalley, a 12-grader from William V.S. Tubman High School
The students declared that if President Weah did not pay their teachers’ salaries, they will continue to protest for a week.
Sonita B. Massalley, a 12-grader from William V.S. Tubman High School said she does not feel good being on the streets but the government left them with no choice. “We are here to show solidarity with our teachers, they must be paid so we can sit our exams.”
Added Massalley: “We came to the President to see how best he can pay our teachers so that we can return to class but the police treated us wrongly. This protest is for our own good.”
Massalley said it is unfair for government schools to be out of classes while private schools are going on. “Other schools are writing their exams but here we are protesting and the police officers are spraying teargas, beating us and stoning us as well, as if we are not students too.”
Decontee Flomo another student of Mary N. Brownell, the entire student body will make sure that other schools are closed down if their instructors don’t get their salary immediately.
“No private school students will sit in class to do their tests beginning tomorrow.”
Gov’t to Meet with MCSS Instructors
Meanwhile, the Minister of Education, Dr. D. Ansu Sonii has disclosed that he and others will begin to meet with teachers of MCSS today, October 15 on the campus of William V. S. Tubman High School.
According to the Education Minister, because of the meeting, MCSS students are advised to stay home as the teachers will be engaged in a meeting.
He called on the public to help spread the message that will come from the meeting.
He disclosed that at least two students were arrested during the protest. According to him, they weren’t students of MCSS.